Turkey is waging a targeted war against Kurds in Syria and journalists who criticize it are being arrested. Meanwhile, NATO allies and Russia are all burying their heads in the sand, says Baha Gungor.
Almost 25 years ago to the day, Ugur Mumcu, one of the most respected investigative journalists in Turkish history, was killed in a bomb attack in Ankara. Islamist terrorists had planted an explosive device under his car. In his columns and books, Mumcu railed against religious fanaticism and corruption and for freedom of the press. It was he who coined the phrase: “Freedom of the press is not a gift from the state.”
Mumcu is one of many journalists murdered in Turkey for defending the truth. Turkish and Kurdish reporters, columnists, correspondents or bloggers defiantly fighting for the public’s right to information and government transparency share the fate of colleagues working under dictatorships the world over. They risk their lives and their freedom when they investigate, report or comment. Thus, it came as no surprise when state prosecutors in Diyarbakir in southeastern Anatolia announced they had arrested 30 journalists who had shared reports critical of the government’s military incursion into northern Syria on social media. Authorities in Istanbul are also currently investigating some 70 more journalists for publishing articles critical offensive in Afrin.
‘National interests’ trump freedom of the press
Proof of the fact that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sees things differently than Mumcu, and considers freedom of the press a gift to be handed out by the state, was provided by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. He summoned state-friendly media representatives and — surprisingly — a few carefully selected opposition journalists in order to explain the government’s “expectations” of them. The sole aim of the exercise, as always, was to remind the media of its “obligation to the state,” and to swear them to uphold “national interests.” Erdogan, ever the autocrat, has stubbornly refused to acknowledge the state’s responsibility for ensuring freedom of the press, instead emphasizing journalists’ obligation to protect the state.
To explore just why Erdogan has insisted upon embarking on this Syrian high-wire act without a safety net is a matter of endless speculation at this point. “Operation Olive Branch” may well turn out to be a boomerang if leaders really believe they have the right to unilaterally guarantee law and order on their borders militarily.
Nevertheless, it remains a riddle as to why the United States and Germany have decided to bury their heads in the sand, although they have both supported the Syrian Kurds until now. Russia, too, has chosen to hide behind empty phrases rather than explain why it has suddenly abandoned the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The fact that the YPG is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that Turkey, the EU and the US consider a terrorist organization, has never been a secret. Still, the (temporary?) defeat of the “Islamic State” (IS) would not have been possible without the YPG. They have done their job, now they can go.
Now the Free Syrian Army is Ankara’s partner in the fight against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Yet no one can say with any certainty what radical, or perhaps even terrorist, forces are hidden within this shadowy group. What will happen if the Kurds are driven from Afrin and the Free Syrian Army takes control of a region that has, thus far, been comparatively peaceful? The only thing that is certain at this point is that tens of thousands of people that fled cities like Aleppo were safe in Afrin. But now, a new wave of refugees threatens to flood into Turkey from Syria. That will not leave Europe untouched.
In light of that fact, it would seem time for Berlin to clearly address Ankara’s behavior rather than delivering half-hearted admonitions. Not lastly, because the West made the decision to arm and train the Turkish army and YPG “allies” in the fight against IS. And in this current fight, weapons from Germany are playing a decisive role on both sides to the struggle.